Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) announced that he would be the latest Republican to retire from Congress, but he followed the announcement with a blistering speech from the Senate floor aimed at President Donald Trump and warning of the dangers of being complicit in accepting his behavior as “normal.”
“In this century, a new phrase has entered the language to describe the accommodation of a new and undesirable order — that phrase being ‘the new normal.’ But we must never adjust to the present coarseness of our national dialogue, with the tone set at the top,” Flake said in a speech to the Senate. “We must never regard as ‘normal’ the regular and casual undermining of our democratic norms and ideals.”
He added, “If we simply become inured to this condition, thinking that it is just politics as usual, then heaven help us.”
His announcement came less than an hour after Trump left the Capitol, where he had met with Republicans in their regular Tuesday caucus lunch to talk about tax reform. But the visit was overshadowed by Trump’s Twitter attacks on Tuesday morning aimed at another Republican not seeking re-election, Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), who has also warned fellow GOP members of the dangers of an impulsive occupant in the Oval Office.
Trump called Corker “liddle” and “the incompetent head of the Foreign Relations Committee,” among other attacks, an apparent response to Corker’s criticisms of Trump in a series of morning show appearances.
Corker responded with a tweet, writing, “Same untruths from an utterly untruthful president. #AlertTheDayCareStaff.”
He later told reporters that “it appears to me that [Trump is] almost devolving.” After supporting his presidential bid, he lately has been questioning Trump’s fitness for office, and has suggested that many other fellow Republicans share the same thoughts privately.
But Corker, like Flake, announced last month that he would retire, rather than face a potentially bruising primary battle from a nationalist candidate on the right. In fact, as bold as their statements may be historically about a president of their own party, they are also a reflection that critics of Trump risk their own political fortunes in speaking out — and often lose.
Flake’s speech quickly earned a rebuke from White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, who said the comments were “petty” and added that she “noticed a lot of the language I didn’t think was befitting of the Senate floor.”
Flake and Corker, now with nothing to lose, will likely become among the most visible GOP critics of Trump’s behavior in the time they have remaining in their terms — setting up a scenario of more feuds with the president. Just after Flake delivered his floor speech, he went on CNN to further criticize Trump.
Flake said to the Senate that it was “time for our complicity and our accommodation of the unacceptable to end,” in what seemed like an alarm bell to other senators to speak out against Trump’s behavior.
“Reckless, outrageous, and undignified behavior has become excused and countenanced as ‘telling it like it is,’ when it is actually just reckless, outrageous, and undignified,” Flake said. “And when such behavior emanates from the top of our government, it is something else: It is dangerous to a democracy. Such behavior does not project strength — because our strength comes from our values. It instead projects a corruption of the spirit, and weakness.”
But so far, many other Republicans have been carefully choosing their words, and others in federal agencies have walked a fine line between criticizing him and correcting the record. After Trump tweeted earlier this month that NBC’s FCC license should perhaps be revoked on the basis of its news coverage, Democrats pressed chairman Ajit Pai to speak out against the president and warned of the chilling effect it could have on the free press. After six days, Pai did, saying that he was a defender of the First Amendment and that the agency could not legally revoke a license based on a station’s news content.
On Tuesday, speaking to reporters at an FCC meeting, Pai reiterated those comments but did not criticize Trump directly.
Rather, he suggested that Trump’s tweets were a way for others to divert attention.
“I understand that those who oppose my agenda would like to be distracted by the controversy of the day,” Pai said.